Saturday, January 18, 2020

All our aloes want is some ☀️

The first two weeks of January have been unpleasantly damp and chilly here in the Sacramento Valley. Today, the sun has been making a valiant effort to warm things up, but a thin layer of clouds is keeping temperatures in check.

All I want is a few days of unadulterated sunshine. I'm not alo(n)e in this: Our aloes have been in a holding pattern for weeks now. They need a good spell of afternoon highs in the 60s to kick the flowering action into high gear. On the positive side—at least as far as aloe flowers are concerned—we haven't had enough rain to cause the ends of the immature inflorescences to rot. In fact, our rainfall has been modest since the official start of winter.

Here are the aloes in our garden that are waiting for warmer weather. Without it, they'll continue to sulk. And so will I.

Aloe 'Tangerine'

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Tohono Chul Park: one of Tucson's must-see destinations for succulent lovers

One of the places I visit regularly when I'm in Tucson, Arizona is Tohono Chul Park. It doesn't have the name recognition of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and because of that it's far less overrun. In fact, every time I've been there, I've been one of only a handful of visitors (the fact that I usually go right when they open at 8 a.m. might have something to do with it).

There are many reasons I like Tohono Chul. It's in Tucson, one of my favorite places in the world, and it combines both the natural desert environment and man-made elements, such as a series of compact demo gardens showcasing desert-appropriate landscaping in residential settings. And it has a small but well-stocked nursery which offers everything from travel-sized souvenir cacti for tourists to unusual succulents for collectors to perennials, shrubs and trees for local homeowners.


I've taken so many photos of Tohono Chul over the years that I'm afraid I might begin to repeat myself—not that that's an issue unless you look at my old posts side by side. But it's very easy for me to get swept away by the beauty of the place. When that happens and I'm in the “zone,” I let myself go with the flow and respond to what I see before me. Getting lost like that is the thing I look forward to the most when I visit the desert.

Speaking of the desert, this quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, perfectly expresses how I feel. Saint-Exupéry was referring to the Sahara, not the Sonoran Desert, but the magnetic pull is the same.


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Plant haul from my December 2019 Arizona trip

One of my great passions in life is traveling. Don't get me wrong—I love being at home, too, but the pull to see other places never quite goes away. In German, there's a great word for this: Fernweh. It literally means “far-ache.” The “ache” part is the same as in “toothache:” a pain that is persistent and all-encompassing. The German language definitely has a knack for coining simple words that express complex emotions!

While I enjoy travel no matter what form it takes, I do prefer driving over flying. When you look at the photos below, you'll understand why. Other people bring home coffee mugs or tea towels as souvenirs, I come back with plants and rocks.

Trunk of our Toyota Prius after my recent Arizona trip. The bare spot on the left was where my clothes bag had been.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Succulents and More on Instagram

Some of you may be following Succulents and More on Instagram already. If you aren't, below are some examples of what you're missing. These are images I posted on Instagram during and after my recent Arizona trip. Some of them may eventually make it into regular blog posts, but most will only appear on Instagram.

My Instagram user name is succulentsandmore.

See you there!




Friday, January 3, 2020

Highlights from my 2019 after-Christmas Arizona trip

I just got back from another awesome after-Christmas desert road trip with a couple of thousand photos—memories that will sustain me until next Christmas when I'll do it all over again.

OK, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that a few plants and rocks came home with me, too. And another metal mariachi musician, a younger brother to the two that have taken up residence in our front yard.

I'll have many posts in the weeks and months to come. For now, here's a random jumble of snapshots that capture the highlights of my trip. Consider it an appetizer.

Highway 247, western San Bernardino County, California; my trusty steed on the right

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!

Regardless of whether this is the last year of the old decade or the first year of the new one, here's wishing all of you a Happy New Year!

There's no better way to kick off the new year than with a photo that celebrates the beauty of nature. I took this panorama just this afternoon (January 1, 2020) at Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) in the snow

2020 has quite a ring to it. May it deliver on the promise it holds!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

From the mountains to the desert

Christmas Day at my mother-in-law's place in Mount Shasta, about an hour south of the Oregon border. The mighty mountain the town is named after has been playing peek-a-boo:

Mount Shasta (14,179 ft, 4,322 m)

Mount Shasta (14,179 ft, 4,322 m)

When Mount Shasta is hidden in the clouds, motorists passing through on Interstate 5 often mistake Black Butte for Mount Shasta:

Black Butte (6,334 ft, 1,931 m)

However, at 6,334 ft, Black Butte is less than half the height of 14,179 ft Mount Shasta. Rising up right next to the freeway, it's still an imposing sight.

Black Butte (6,334 ft, 1,931 m)

The town of Mount Shasta is in a picturesque alpine setting. However, less than 10 miles to the north, the geography changes dramatically as the conifer forest gives way to the high desert, which stretches east into Nevada and beyond.


 As much as I like the mountains, the desert is where my heart is. This desert, any desert.

“I succumbed to the desert as soon as I saw it,” wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, best known for The Little Prince. He was referring to the Sahara, but still.

Typical high desert scene east of Weed, CA

Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa)

It's been a long time since I've done any exploring in the far eastern corner of California—an area that is as vast as it is remote. One of these years... 

In the meantime, I'll get my desert fix somewhere else entirely—over 1,000 miles further south in the Sonoran Desert. On Boxing Day, I'm heading to Tucson, Arizona for my the annual post-Christmas solo road trip. From the Oregon border to the Mexican border, one might say!

Map data ©2019 Google, INEGI


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Eyeball-worthy nuggets from around the web—2019 holiday edition

2019 has been a very busy year workwise. Long hours chained to my desk have meant little time for staying current on my favorite blogs, let alone scratching anything but the merest surface of the bottomless sea of information available online.

Fortunately, work slows down between Christmas and New Year's, allowing me to catch up on my reading. And since I love sharing, here are some particularly fascinating tidbits I've come across.


Greenovia dodrantalis
© rare_succulent on Instagram
Unusual succulents are one of the 5 hot houseplant trends for 2020

According to Yahoo Lifestyle, “unusual succulents” are #2 of the “5 Houseplant Trends That Will Be Hot in 2020.” As examples, they give “jumping dolphins” and “rose buds.” If you're like me and have no idea what these made-up names refer to, “jumping dolphins” are Senecio peregrinus and “rose buds” are Greenovia dodrantalis.

Greenovias, or mountain roses, are aeonium relatives from the Canary Islands. Looking at some photos online, I can see how they would appeal to plant lovers who like their succulents soft and unarmed. House Beautiful even had an article about the mountain rose in June: “Because it’s a succulent, you can keep it indoors with very little fuss.” (No comment on that.) If you want your own greenovia, Etsy sells plenty of them.

“Jumping dolphins” (Senecio peregrinus), also sold as “string of dolphins,” are companions to “string of pearls” (Senecio rowleyanus), “string of beads” (Senecio herreianus), and “string of bananas” (Senecio radicans). In habitat, these closely related succulents from South Africa creep along the ground and form dense mats. In captivity, they look great cascading from a pot. If you want your own string of dolphins, Mountain Crest Gardens sells them.


Senecio peregrinus
© Mountain Crest Gardens
Available for order
10 plant trends to watch out for in 2020
Succulents also fare prominently in another list of 2020 plant trends, this one published on the Nursery Management website. “People are discovering the immense variety that is the world of succulents,” an expert from the University of Florida is quoted as saying. “Their interesting shapes and growth habits seem to offer a form of living art.”

To us, this may not seem surprising, let alone newsworthy, but bear in the mind that what nurseries carry is largely driven by consumer demand. If consumer tastes in succulents become more sophisticated, we're going to see more unusual or uncommon varieties in mainstream retail channels (possibly including greenovias!). That benefits all of us.

Even more intriguing is trend #4, “re-wilding.” This means taking “steps to have less control in the landscape. This can include encouraging beneficial insects, reducing herbicide and pesticide use, pruning less and planting more native plants.”

I'm totally on board with having less control. Not only does it involve less work, it also allows us to experience unexpected discoveries and surprises. I realize that giving up a certain amount of control can cause anxiety, but leave yourself open to the possibility that the rewards just may outweigh your discomfort.


© Intelligent Living
Planting trees in square holes makes them grow stronger and faster
That's what a December 21, 2019 article on the web site Intelligent Living claims. Apparently, when planting a tree in a round hole, it will develop a circular root system, much like it would in a container. Ultimately, this creates a “girdle that chokes the plant.”

In contrast, your tree has a much better chance of thriving in a square hole because when the roots meet up with a 90° angle, they spread beyond the planting hole and penetrate the surrounding soil. These are the findings from systematic planting trials.

Whether true or not, it doesn't take much more effort, if any, to dig a square hole so that's what I'll do from now on.


© Florida Fruit Geek
Cold-hardy avocados
I'm not sure how many of you lose sleep anguishing over whether to plant an avocado tree in a borderline inhospitable climate, but here is a handy guide to cold-hardy varieties. Surprisingly, some of them can handle temperatures as low as 15°F!

According to this excellent article by Florida Fruit Geek (Craig Hepworth), there are three subspecies of avocados—Guatemalan, West Indies, and Mexican. Only the first two are grown commercially, but they're frost-sensitive.

The frost-tolerant varieties are from the Mexican subspecies. They aren't grown commercially to any great extent because their skin is so thin that transportation would be difficult and hence costly (apparently you can mash them up skin and all). Because of their high oil content, they have a rich flavor that apparently puts the commercial varieties to shame.

Most Mexican varieties can handle cold snaps to 18°F, some even 15°F with little damage.

In addition, there are hybrids between the Mexican and Guatemalan or West Indies subspecies. They have less cold tolerance but thicker skin, making it easier to transport and store them without damage.

I once bought an avocado tree (I can't remember which variety) and it survived in its #5 nursery pot for several years. I never did get around to planting it, mainly because our backyard is small and I didn't want to dedicate precious real estate to a tree that is really quite ugly. However, if I ever were in the market for an avocado tree again, I'd try a Mexican variety for their flavor.


© Tom Cowey, as seen on Bored Panda
Crown shyness, or why trees don't like to touch
I was stunned when I first saw a picture of this phenomenon. To appreciate this marvel of nature in all its glory, look at these photos on Bored Panda.

Why are these trees taking great pains to avoid touching their neighbors? Nobody knows for sure but there are several hypotheses for what botanists call “crown shyness,” “canopy shyness,” or “intercrown spacing.”

Some experts postulate it's to protect against mechanical damage that would be caused by rubbing against neighboring trees; others think it's to prevent the spread of insects from tree to tree. To me, the hypothesis that makes most sense is that trees are trying to maximize the amount of light that reaches the leaves on lower branches. Maybe it's a combination of things.

Crown shyness is seen in a variety of trees, ranging from tropical and subtropical species to some European oaks and pines. This drone footage from Mexico is a jaw-dropping illustration this phenomenon:

Forest Therapy - Do Nothing for 2 mins... from Dimitar Karanikolov on Vimeo.


© Guillermo Rivera
Plant expeditions
I just received the latest newsletter from Guillermo Rivera Plant Expeditions. As always, it's full of drool-worthy destinations: Baja California, Namibia, Ecuador, South Africa/Namaqualand, Argentina, Chile.

Guille Rivera has been leading plant-focused trips to the Americas and Africa for decades. Several friends of mine have traveled with him, and they loved every minute. I've never been able to go on one of these trips, but it's wonderful to dream, especially when it's cold outside.

On that note: Happy Holidays to you and yours!


Monday, December 16, 2019

Favorite succulent photos of 2019

This year, I've published 106 posts containing some 2,600 photos. That number surprised even me! Granted, many of them are utilitarian—merely meant to illustrate something that happened or something I was working on. But more than half of them are actually nice, especially the ones from trips or garden visits. It's a shame their shelf life is so limited and the odds that they're viewed more than once are close to zero.

With that in mind, I've picked 60+ of my favorite succulent-themed images that appeared in 2019 posts, essentially giving them a second chance to be seen.

I've sequenced the images so there's a logical flow, either based on subject matter or location, or on color or texture. I hope you'll enjoy looking at them as much as I did taking them.

Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) east of Yucca, AZ